Golden State Warriors in position to repeat as champions despite losing crucial players

October 12, 2022 — by George Hu
During a NBA regular season game between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trailblazers, Warriors point guard Stephen Curry and Warriors power forward Draymond Green celebrate by giving each other a high five.
Although other elite teams have made trades and signings to elevate their championship hopes, the Warriors are still one of the favorites to win the NBA Finals.

Despite a lack of top-tier unrestricted free agents, this NBA offseason was surprisingly volatile. Throughout the summer, social media was buzzing with blockbuster trades changing the entire future direction of some teams.

The biggest trades: The Utah Jazz traded both of their all stars, center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively; former San Antonio Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray became an Atlanta Hawk; former Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon became a Boston Celtic; and former Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson signed with the New York Knicks.

Despite all this movement, the Golden State Warriors are still in a good place to win a repeat championship. The Celtics, Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks remain my top picks to win the championship. The second tier of potential contenders, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies and Brooklyn Nets, also stay relatively unchanged. 

One team that has elevated their championship odds is the reigning Eastern conference champion Celtics, as they acquired former Rookie of the Year Brogdon from the Pacers for the small price of shooting guard and small forward Aaron Nesmith, center Daniel Theis, shooting guard Nik Stauskas, power forward Malik Fitts, power forward Juwan Morgan and a 2023 first round pick. Their core team, in essence, is the same one we saw during the NBA Finals last season.

Brogdon is capable of defending multiple positions and is a great scorer and playmaker, but has had an injury history in his career, missing almost 50 games last season. There was risk in trading for him, but if healthy, he will be a valuable asset.

The upcoming season could also feature a resurgence of the Clippers, Nuggets and Nets.

For the Clippers, the addition of point guard John Wall this offseason will allow for better playmaking and athleticism. That, paired with MVP-caliber player Kawhi Leonard’s long awaited return from injury, will make the team one of the toughest to beat in the Western Conference.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets will get star guard Jamal Murray back from an ACL injury. Also back from injury is emerging star forward Michael Porter Jr.. Both are young key players who have yet to hit their peak and can help MVP center Nikola Jokic carry the scoring load and threaten the Warriors’ chances. 

Finally, no one should sleep on the Nets. Despite an underwhelming 2021-2022 campaign, they can rebound this year. If forward Kevin Durant,  point guard Kyrie Irving and guard and forward Ben Simmons stay healthy for most of the season, they could be a tricky matchup for the Warriors.

The Nets’ failure in the playoffs last year was because of frequent injuries, so I expect them to improve significantly this year, especially with chemistry, if they have fewer injuries.

It will be exciting to see how the Warriors stack up against these teams without crucial role players such as guard Gary Payton II and forward Otto Porter Jr, both of whom went to bigger paychecks with other teams in free agency.

Despite these unfortunate losses, the Warriors’ current young talent, centered around 20-year-old guard Moses Moody, 19-year old forward Jonathan Kuminga, 21-year old center James Wiseman, and 23-year-old Jordan Poole, will continue to develop. Meanwhile, the team’s offseason acquisition of shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo, whose prowess will add depth, shooting, perimeter and off-ball defense. Ideally, DiVincenzo and the ongoing development of the Warriors’ young core will make up for the losses of Payton and Porter.

Arguably their most important move of the offseason was re-signing power forward and center Kevon Looney, a key contributor on the 2022 Warriors championship team, to a 3-year $22.5 million contract. Because the team lacks physical size, they could not afford to lose him. 

The Warriors have mastered small ball, but they need size to go up against teams with strong centers like the 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Nuggets. The Warriors tend to utilize power forward Draymond Green, who is much shorter than the average center, as the center in their small ball lineups, which can backfire when facing those teams.

Another problem that the team must address in the near future is their limited salary cap space for the 2023-24 season: They are projected to pay over $100 million in luxury tax. 

As a result, the team’s front office needs to make a vital decision on whether to give max contracts to Draymond Green and small forward Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins’ contract is set to expire after the end of this upcoming season and Green has a player option after this season, which he will likely decline for a bigger contract. 

Considering the limited salary cap space, it is unwise to offer Green a huge contract because he turns 33 after the end of the 2022-2023 season and has regressed over the past five seasons. If the team chooses to give him his desired big contract, the team will lose depth, hurting their championship odds in the future.

Regardless of what the front office chooses to do, they’ve made significant changes to the roster over the last decade and it’s brought them four championships.

I’m hoping it will become five after this season, but frankly, the results are hard to predict — all I can be sure of is that there will be many thrilling matchups against resurging contenders.

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